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Student Legal Assistance sees increased use

By Tina Shaygan, March 7 2017 —

Student Legal Assistance (SLA) expanded from working on 624 open files in 2015 to 707 over the 2016 calendar year. The SLA has also expanded their services to represent clients from rural communities in Alberta as well as First Nation reserves near Calgary.

The SLA is the University of Calgary’s non-profit law clinic. The service provides legal assistance to undergraduate students and low-income earners who can’t afford a lawyer.

According to Students’ Union law representative Mark Shearer, the SLA works on around 400 files at any given time.

“During the academic year we have about  100 student volunteers who manage all of the files and over the summer we have 10 paid summer case workers,” Shearer said. “We cover family law, tax law, civil law, criminal law, bankruptcy, administrative hearings, student academic appeals and traffic files.”

Student Director of the SLA Elliot Holzman credits his team for the dramatic growth of the organization over the past year.

“There was an incredible vibe in our office. People were really engaged and active with the file works,” Holzman said.

Holzman said the economic downturn might be another reason for the increased workload.

“In 2016, the economy in Alberta was really bad and there are lots of studies that show that when there is an economic downturn there tends to be an increase in crime, or [an] increase in legal issues that people have,” he said. 

U of C undergraduate students pay a $1.75 levy that goes towards the SLA. The clinic is mandated to assist low-income individuals as well as any undergraduates at the U of C with their legal issues. According to Holzman, about 15 per cent of clients last year consisted of U of C undergraduate students.

“When our clinic was started it was very much designed to help students,” Holzman said.

The SLA mainly helps undergraduate students in areas such as academic appeals, traffic violations, some criminal matters and landlord-tenant disputes.

“A lot of students can find themselves in situations where their landlord won’t give them back their damage deposit, or there is a leak or something and [their] landlord is telling the students they have to pay. Students find themselves in vulnerable situations and we can help out [a lot] of student tenants,” Holzman said.

Shearer said SLA representatives can also appear in hearings for students facing academic misconduct.

According to Shearer, SLA representatives can make court appearances for students and negotiate lower fines in cases of traffic violations.

“If you’re an undergraduate student you can go to the SLA and get free help. Otherwise, we’re mandated that we can only help low-income people and we have an income cut-off,” he said.

The SLA is unique compared to other law school clinics across the country as it is run primarily by law students. Beyond helping U of C undergraduates, the SLA also engages in weekly outreach programs with organizations like the Calgary Drop-in Centre and Calgary Urban Projects to assist Calgarians with their legal issues.

The SLA office is located on the third floor of Murray Fraser Hall. Students can book their free appointments by calling (403) 220-6637.


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